A Jewish girl in Romania during World War II, Sara Koprak felt she had no childhood. She spent a good part of her time looking for food and a safe place to sleep, worries that usually only adults have.
“I was so undernourished that when I was 15 years old I looked like I was eight,” she said.
Koprak, 73, and five other Holocaust survivors recently lit six candles in remembrance of the six million Jews who died during World War II. This gesture was one of many taking place that night in Midwood to, commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, commonly known as Yom HaShoah.
An internationally recognized day that falls on the 27th of Nisan, the first month of the Hebrew calendar, Yom HaShoah was declared Holocaust Remembrance Day by the Israeli Parliament in 1951. The full name, Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah, which literally means Holocaust Remembrance and Heroism Day, became formal after parliament passed a law in 1959.
The Yom HaShoah Memorial Services, co-organized by the East Midwood and Madison Jewish centers, takes place the night before Yom HaShoah, which this year fell on May 1. Congregants of both temples gather annually “to remember as to avoid repeating the past,” said Rabbi Alvin Kass, East Midwood Jewish Center’s spiritual leader.
The evening’s readings were based on the Shoah Scroll, the first formal text written to commemorate the Holocaust. Each passage was read by a survivor.
Samuel Weintraub, originally from Poland, arrived in Brooklyn in 1947. Since he became a part of Madison Jewish Center’s congregation over 40 years ago, he has lit several candles on Yom HaShoah.
“It’s not exactly a pleasure for me,” he said. “I remember not one uncle, but over 12 uncles and grand uncles who perished and, although I was a little boy, I still remember their faces.”
Weintraub celebrates the lives of his loved ones on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Judaism’s High Holy Days, and mourns those he lost on Yom HaShoah.
“You can’t forget their living but you also can’t forget their perishing,” he said.
For Koprak, this was the first time she lit a candle at the Madison Jewish Center. She was in awe, she said, when thinking that a candle represents a million lives, and had tears in her eyes when singing the Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem.
While the memorial service is a once a year event, for Holocaust survivors it’s only one of many ways to remember those who perished.
Koprak tries to keep busy every minute of the day, she said, to avoid thinking about her childhood years in Romania constantly. An active member at the Madison Jewish Center, she recounts her good stories, those she chooses to remember, to the congregation during Friday night services.